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Barge Canal gets national historic status

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – The Presbyterian Road bridge in Albion, built in 1909 over the canal when it was widened, is one of the many features of the canal that remain from the widening about a century ago.

The New York State Barge Canal was given lofty status today when the National Park Service announced the Barge Canal is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Erie Canal opened in 1825. The Barge Canal represents the widening of the canal between 1905 and 1918. Many of the bridges, guard gates, waste weir systems and other canal infrastructure remain in use today.

“This recognition from the highest levels of our nation reminds us once again of the essential role New York State and its waterways have played in our country’s development and prominence,” said Mike Caldwell, regional director for the National Park Service’s Northeast Region. “On behalf of the National Park Service, I am honored to recognize the New York State Barge Canal’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a nationally significant, historic transportation icon.”

The New York State Barge Canal National Register Historic District spans 450 miles and includes the four branches of the state’s canal system: the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals.

The nomination evaluated 791 features and included 552 contributing structures and buildings.

Photo by Chris Busch – The lift bridge in Medina was built in 1914. It’s one of seven lift bridges in Orleans County, the most of any county on the canal.

“The Barge Canal includes some of the nation’s most recognized waterways and is a New York gem,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement. “Spanning the Erie Canal, Oswego Canal, Champlain Canal and Cayuga-Seneca Canal, the Barge Canal is a true historic destination. I am pleased the National Park Service has granted this designation, which will help preserve the Barge Canal and expand opportunities for local developments in the area.”

Congress in 2000 declared the canal as a National Heritage Corridor, one of 49 such areas in the country. When the 363-mile-long waterway opened in 1825, it transformed Upstate New York into an economic powerhouse, raising the fortunes of canal towns such as Medina, Albion and Holley.

When railroads started to threaten the canal in the mid- to late-1800s, state officials moved to widen and deepen the canal. In 1918, after 13 years of construction, the Barge Canal was born, and many of the structures from that upgrade remain along the system today.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor prepared the application for the National Register designation. The Canalway Corridor’s application was 267 pages long and identified 566 contributing structures along the canal that add to the historic significance of the barge system.

In Orleans County, the contributing structures include:

MURRAY – Bennetts Corners Road bridge from 1911; Holley Waste Weir built in 1914; Holley Embankment (the tallest on the system, rising 76 feet above the valley of the East Branch of Sandy Creek); East Avenue Lift Bridge constructed in 1911; Holley Terminal, constructed in 1915 as a 16-foot by 30-foot wood frame freight house;

Guard Gate that is west of North Main Street and constructed 1914; Telegraph Road Bridge built in 1911; Groth Road Bridge built in 1911; Hulberton Road Lift Bridge constructed 1913; Brockville Waste Weir east of Fancher Road Bridge, constructed 1911; Hindsburg Road Bridge constructed 1911; and Transit Road Bridge constructed 1911.

This photo contributed by Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin shows the canal being widened a century ago in Medina.

ALBION – Densmore Road Bridge constructed in 1911; Keitel Road Bridge built in 1912; Butts Road Bridge constructed 1912; Brown Street Bridge from 1912 (includes a sidewalk); Albion Waste Weir off State Street behind Community Action, constructed in 1910; Ingersoll Street Lift Bridge from 1911; Main Street Lift Bridge from 1914;

Albion terminal and shops for Canal Corporation, built in 1917; Lattins Farm Road bridge from 1911; Guard Gates from 1913; Gaines Basin Road bridge from 1912; Eagle Harbor Waste Weir that includes three drain gates, built in 1912; Eagle Harbor Lift Bridge, built in 1910 with a wood frame tower; Allens Bridge Road Bridge built in 1909; and Presbyterian Road Bridge from 1909.

RIDGEWAY – Knowlesville Lift Bridge from 1910 (During a 1975 rehabilitation, the tower was replaced by one-story brick control building on east side at south end of bridge.); Knowlesville Terminal, west of Knowlesville lift bridge, and built in 1910; Culvert Road (This is the only place where a road passes under a branch of the New York State Canal System. There has been a road culvert under the canal here 1823. Stone portals at either end of the enlarged Erie Canal culvert were dismantled and re-erected when it was extended to its current 200-foot length as part of Barge Canal construction, according to the Barge Canal application to the state.);

Beals Road Bridge from 1909; Bates Road Bridge constructed in 1914; Guard Gate, west of Bates Road bridge, and constructed in 1914; Pleasant Street/Horan Avenue Bridge built in 1914; Oak Orchard Creek Aqueduct, constructed in 1914. (The Oak Orchard Creek span is the only true aqueduct on the Barge Canal system. The structure consists of a concrete arch over Oak Orchard Creek at the head of Medina Falls with concrete walls on either side of the channel.)

Medina Terminal, a 24- by 70-foot frame freight house constructed in 1916; Eagle Street/Glenwood Avenue Bridge, constructed 1914; Prospect Avenue/ Route 63 Lift Bridge, built in 1914; Marshall Road Bridge from 1909; and a Guard Gate near Middleport, from 1913.

Bob Radliff, director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, said the new recognition for the Barge Canal will boost the efforts to promote the Canal Corridor as a world-class destination and foster “vibrant communities connected by our waterways.”